Traditionally, people go to an art exhibit or museum to observe an art piece and then experience a reaction based on that observation. This paradigm of a separation between the observer and what is being observed is also prevalent in science. A new and different understanding is emerging in which the observer is acknowledged to have an effect on the object being observed and a relationship between the two becomes apparent.
The “Waves” installation created by Spanish artist Daniel Palacios is based on simple scientific principles of sound, kinetic energy, the understanding of how we perceive through our senses, and the application of movement sensors technology. Palacios has been presenting this piece around the world, earning several awards and allowing the public to experience this new relationship between art and observer.
For this issue’s ART FORUM, SuperConsciousness Magazine spoke to Palacios about his “Waves” installation and the concepts and experiences behind it.
SC: How does the piece interact with the people who see it?
DP: “Waves” is made to react to the movement of the people in the room. Their movement changes the settings of the spin, changing in an instant the sound and the waveform created by the rope. This way, when one enters the room all you see is a white line floating in the air. As you approach, it begins to make symmetrical waves and you can perceive a continuous hum. The truth is that you are listening to and watching a harmonic note.
The installation creates an average to calculate the number of people and their movements around it. It goes through different harmonic states, multiplying the amount of waves relative to the number of people in the room (which increases the intensity of the sound). At the same time, as the movement in the room increases around the piece, it will override the stability of the harmonic notes, creating a different and irregular spin depending on the accumulated inertia on the rope. This creates louder sounds and unstable visual wave forms that bring you out of the initial hypnotic state and instill a feeling of danger.
SC: What has been the reaction of the public when they come across your piece?
DP: The reactions have been quite varied and it has been very interesting to observe, because a lot of people don’t know what they are looking at and start making their own assumptions. I suppose that from the relationship created with graphic equalizers, most people think at first that what they are looking at is being created by a laser and they start looking all round to find the “trick”, when in reality it is much simpler than that.
In one of the first expositions of this installation, at ARCO06, there was a group of women in their 60’s close to me who were having a discussion about what they were looking at. One of them, speaking as if she had made the installation herself, was telling the others that without a doubt it was nothing but two fans creating wind currents inside women’s pantyhose extended between both modules of the piece, thus generating the different waveforms.
Another reaction has been that at some point during the exposition, someone will relate the piece to that childhood experiment in physics in which a “telephone” is created with two plastic cups and a string tied to them. The vibrations created by the voice are transmitted and amplified at the other end. When the person remembers this, the first thing they do is come close to one end and shout through the vent hole, thinking that the wave form is related to their voice. At times groups of people gather at each end, screaming at each other.
Following the saying “When in Rome. . .” those who enter the room at that moment and look at this think that’s what one has to do and sometimes the game goes on for quite a while.
Without a doubt the reaction from the public is essential for this installation, since the piece is made to react to them.
SC: What is the mechanism and technology behind it?
DP: Its construction is quite simple. It’s basically made with two industrial engines which make the rotors spin, which a rope is tied to. The type of rope used is very important. The system used to hold it onto the rotors, as well as the logic in the principles that control the software, establish the relationship between the public and the installation’s function.
Technically a micro controller picks up the movements of the public through infrared sensors integrated at the base of the piece and uses that information to change the frequency of the spin in the engines, which alters the sound and waveforms presented.
All this technology is hidden within the piece, so that it does not distract the public’s attention. They focus on the phenomena created and not analyzing the technology.
SC: What is the scientific concept behind “Waves”?
DP: Various principles in physics are combined in “Waves” to generate what we see and hear when we approach the installation.
Physics tells us that sounds are vibrations that travel through our eardrums and are then interpreted by our brain. Even though the rope apparently does not touch anything to make a sound, due to the high speed at which it spins and the tension that it’s tied to, as it moves it creates a series of compressions and decompressions that our ears are able to pick up as whistles.
In regards to the visual effects, we have to know the limitations of our eyes. In the same way that images which flash at rates higher than ten times per second will be perceived as a continuous sequence (like in a movie theater), if we surpass the number of images per second that the eye can see, they will be seen as a path. That is the reason why we see a three dimensional form and not a rotating rope.
SC: How do you perceive the relationship between art, science and technology?
DP: In my perception, historically art has been a channel for representation, be it religious, theoretical or something other.
Its link with science and technology is that science provides the empirical knowledge with which one can experiment and technology the tools one can use to put some concepts into practice.
If we apply these arguments to perceptual systems, which are what I work with, science gives me a practical knowledge base to understand how we perceive things and how our senses work. Technology becomes an essential tool to apply this knowledge, altering or amplifying our perceptions, in essence playing with our senses.